The Seventh Sense
A death cloud hovered over the prison. My Seventh Sense was still dormant. Chico walked around the yard against the flow of traffic—the first omen of doom, and I ignored it. Chico lets you call him Cheek if he likes you, but I don’t know anyone he likes, so it’s Chico. A guy in the mess hall once called him “Chico and the Man.” Chico grabbed his hand, broke it, and whispered through clenched teeth, “You tell, I kill you.” Chico is the quintessential stereotypical prisoner. His face sports not one, but two zippers. Zippers, the razor slashes that heal with a scar resembling a Levi’s zipper, can be battle scars or snitch tags. He donned an Army jacket that survived over twenty years of prison winters. Did I mention the tattoos? He had at least twenty, but no one knew for sure. In prison it’s not wise to stare at people for too long, much less a dude like Cheek—I meant Chico. He wasn’t a dude I’d like to stare at anyway.
Chico was a tall five-foot-four and carried a chiseled one hundred and eighty pound frame. He wore a mustache that reminded me of the guy from that Clint Eastwood movie, “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,”—The Mexican who said “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.” His fluffy caterpillar ‘stache danced whenever he talked fast. Chico wore nerdy, Malcolm X glasses, but mistaking him for a nerd could prove fatal. He had huge hands that looked as though they were stripped off a giant and sewed on by Dr. Frankenstein. His tar black pony-tailed hair always fell over his right shoulder and down his chest. It was a black python on display, mirroring the people I saw in Greenwich Village who wore pet snakes around their necks in public, as if they wore exotic jewelry. Chico had shark eyes, black and tundra cold. Tattooed down the back of one arm in gothic letters, was the word, “Fuck.” On the other arm—Yes you’ve guessed it, “You.” The Parole Board would’ve loved this message of rehabilitation. Chico would have had to go to the Board in shorts and a tank top for them to read more of his fortune cookie sayings. Across his chest read, “Love and Peace Forever,” words to live by from guru Chico. “Love and Peace Forever,” . . . “Fuck You.” There’s a contradiction in terms for ya.
That was Chico, a walking contradiction. On one side he had a heart that Mother Theresa would envy, on the other side he was a monster that Godzilla would run from. He had more tears tattooed under his eyes than I have ever seen, and knowing they were there scared the shit out of me. Zippers, New Jack, tear tattoos, prison lingo is a separate language. Tattoo tears, hmm, where do I start? A tattoo tear means the person bagged a body. It signifies, either your gang or you had some beef and you murdered to get the drama squashed. Your reward is a tear tattoo. On Chico’s right eye was one little tear with two circles around it, which adds up to five confirmed kills per circle. Above the circled tear were three micro tears, which stood for two kills each. Bringing his total kills to sixteen on his right eye alone. On his left eye was a big tear with one micro tear above it. The tiny tear had a mini-red heart above it. I didn’t know what the hell the heart stood for and I wasn’t asking Chico either. I wouldn’t risk enter his “Tears for Fears” club. What the tiny heart means is a mystery. I chose to heed the warning across his neck in blood red ink: “Kill or Be Killed.” Besides, the tear drop count on his face wasn’t updated for a while. I myself witnessed him murder someone and no new tears sprouted on his face since then. I guess when he got around to it, he’d tally up his kills and add the appropriate number of killing tears to his face. Until then, his tear map was incomplete.
Keep in mind I saw Chico murder, yet didn’t. How so? Either I saw him or I didn’t. I can see him murder and not see him murder. I can and I did. In the warped zone of prison this is as common as a Bill Clinton scandal. Since I’m sure you have a look on your face of “What’s behind door number two, Monty?” I’ll tell you how it all went down. This is the first and only time I told anyone—ever! I’ve learned the hard way to keep certain events in prison to myself, and my shower slashing episode is one of them. You’ve probably heard the cliché, “News travels fast.” In prison, news and secrets told travel twice the speed of light coupled with a push for good luck. Your only hope of keeping something secret is . . . tell no one. Not your homeboy you’ve known for twenty-five years. Not your mom over the phone. Don’t even tell God, if he doesn’t know already. My secret was safe. Only Chico and myself knew, and he knew nothing from the moment he butchered Tyrone’s throat until after he left him massacred as if in a scene from Friday the 13th. If he thought for half a second I didn’t know loose lips would not sink ships, but kill me, then that night in the shower a pair of bodies would’ve been left for dead. I knew . . . I knew nothing.
It was a cotton candy-sticky night. The night air had me hallucinating, wishing I could turn on the A.C.—outside. I finished a three mile run and would have five if a June bug swarm wasn’t pelting me every lap, a la raindrops. Prison sucks, no doubt about it, but a shower is a shower, is a shower; and a place of paradise when you need one. At times it’s a killing field. Think about it. If you want to kill someone, or bash his head in, what better place than the shower? The guy is bare-assed naked with his balls waving to the public, while green slippery slime shines underfoot, and soap in face acts as mace. It’s not a haven if you’re a marked man, and Tyrone Williams was a walking bullseye.
Tyrone had no clue he executed himself the day he kicked Trix. I’ll peep you on the status of Trix. Trix was a black and white speckled cat. A flea infested, mange wearing, stinky feline that roamed the yard with a dozen other scruffy cats. That was Trix if you had at least one foot grounded in reality. But in Chico’s self-contained universe of perception, Trix and his cohorts were royalty. To Chico, the cats were Egyptian Gods reincarnated. That wasn’t mange, it was a series of distinct character lines. To Chico, they weren’t scavenging alley cats loaded with parasites, but rather prized purebreeds that belonged in a Madison Square Garden cat show. He treated cats with a pampering that would make Beverly Hills cats jealous. To the cats, Chico was nothing less than the great Tuna god. He fed them the chunky tuna, the Cadillac of tunas from commissary, with a side dish of milk from the messhall, of course. The cats even drank out of Chico’s thermos cup; even his closest comrade couldn’t do that.
A ten-foot fence separated the cats’ safety domain from the main yard, with scattered spots along the bottom where they scooted under. After the Man broke us out of our cells for yard, Chico would near the fence and belt out one long, “Sssssssss!” What erupted next was an exodus of cats from cracks and crevices everywhere. Not a couple of cats, but eight, ten, fifteen felines meowing their heads off until they started stuffing their mouths. You’d think Chico was Elvis and the cats his rabid fans. Chico looked nothing like Elvis, but I’d bet a limb some of those cats were rabid groupies.
The cats were Chico’s life. They fed a side of Chico every person needs fed, the side telling you that you have meaning in this mysterious world. To the cats, Chico meant dinner a la Chico. Everyone knew the felines were Chico’s disciples, and if you messed with them he wouldn’t practice the golden rule and turn the other cheek. Well, everyone knew except Tyrone. The Trixie episode happened the first day Ty arrived. I first noticed Ty leaning against the main yard gate. Tyrone was not a little guy. He was basketball tall and pushing two hundred forty-five pounds easy. Bob Marley would have envied his Medusa dreadlocks. He was not from the Islands, not unless you meant Manhattan Island—Harlem, U.S.A to be exact.
Ty dwarfed me, and I’m no shorty at six feet. I’m also a hundred and ninety pounds of caramel-light skin, rooted into a family tree stretching back to Africa and the West Indies. My momma also told me I had a white, great granddad from Ireland. I’m American, last I checked. I don’t have Denzel or George Clooney looks, but the ladies tend to look me over twice in good light. I’m not a steroid jock, but with my build I could pass easily for an athlete. My best feature is my smile—it melts women and calms little kids.
Chico was at his weekly visit with our resident psych Dr. Droughn, so he wasn’t in the yard doting over his harem of kitties. Ty didn’t set out to kick Trix, nonetheless his size 13EEE Timberlands ended up punting old Trix. After that, Ty’s life moments dwindled faster than stock in an Enron fund. Ty tried to pet Trix, Trix scratched Ty, then Ty booted Trix’s head as if attempting an extra-point kick on a Monday Night Football game. Chico didn’t witness it, didn’t have to, few secrets are kept here. The prison wire notified Chico as if he were sent an emergency telegram. With the knowledge of the kick to Trix, Chico was now a man on a mission, sort of an unstoppable object on course with Tyrone Williams.
Chico’s demeanor didn’t budge a bit. He was from the old school. He knew Ty was a ripe peach and not going anywhere until he plucked him. Ty was in NO-IDEA-LAND, destined to board Chico’s revenge ride. New Jacks are like that. A New Jack is a virgin to the prison system, a newcomer neophyte snowballed together. Ty was lost on how to act in prison. Might as well have placed a blinking sign across his forehead reading, “New Jack!” Before Chico passed sentence on Tyron, diagnosed Trix’s condition. I took one peek at Trixie and knew Ty’s sentence would be death. There are no appeals in Chico’s court. No reprieve calls from the Governor. You didn’t sit around for years on Chico’s death row awaiting to walk the Green Mile. No, death was administered swiftly, with no caution or pain to inhumane suffering. Actually, Chico preferred suffering. Chico only paroled dudes to purgatory.
Trixie’s eye was swollen shut and her neck had a forty-five-degree crick in it, probably from a ruptured vertebrae. This caused her head to cock to the left as if she were trying to look behind her while she walked. Add her droning wheeze from a crushed windpipe and it was window-glass clear that Trix would soon use up her last of nine lives. Chico knew it too.
Trix, though spooked and in serious pain, couldn’t resist Chico’s “Sssssssss” call. Perhaps the great Tuna god could relieve her torment, she must have thought. He did. First, Chico pet Trix behind the ear. Trix managed a spurting purr of approval. Then, “Crack!” Chico broke her neck as easily as if he turned over the ignition on a car. Trixie’s misery was over and Tyrone’s destiny sealed. While breaking her neck, I couldn’t help but picture Tyrone’s head attached to Trixie’s body. Chico shed his shirt and wrapped Trixie’s body in it as if his shirt were the great Shroud of Turin. He put her carcass in the recreation shack locker. This became Trixie’s sepulcher for three days. Trix wasn’t resurrected, but instead Chico buried her in the Protestant chapel’s flowerbed. When Chico finished burying Trix I saw something I didn’t think possible: Chico was crying. His crying seemed ironic to me. Here was a man whose eyes had tattoo tears of death as a badge of his cold murderous ways, yet, at the death of a grungy cat, he shed real tears.
During Chico’s mourning time, people avoided Tyrone as if he were a carrier of the Ebola virus. No one informed him of Chico’s plan for revenge in memory of Trixie. I guess I could have dropped Ty a slip so he could sign in Protective Custody (P.C.), but I figured one of his homeboys had that covered. I figured wrong.
I was rinsing my hair in the back shower, the one with the water pressure that comes out as a mini massage. My Seventh Sense of doom kicked in, but I ignored it and remained lost in my heavenly shower. With a sliver of hell as close as my shadow, my Seventh Sense tingled wild and awareness fell over me. In a shutter-speed glimpse I saw Tyrone three showerheads away, rubbing his chest with soap as if he was in an Ivory soap commercial. My gut ordered me to scram and my feet obeyed. I turned to grab my soap dish and shampoo off the shelf and spun around into the shower scene from Psycho, except absent the shrieking Hitchcock music.
Tyrone was on his back, neck gashed open past his spine, head flipped back, reminding me of those Pez candy dispensers I had as a kid. He appeared to be performing a Gumby-like Chinese contortionist’s move. Blood spurted and spit out of his neck similar to an open garden hose, courtesy of his severed jugular. The shower floor was as if Moses turned the sea red. What I’ll always remember—the image I wake up cold and sweaty to in the night—is Ty’s right leg twitching as a horse does when trying to shoo a fly away. I stopped breathing on the spot. There was no calling 911, no saving Tyrone Williams. Tyrone wouldn’t say “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” The only one I could save was me! If the C.O. came in then, I’d be the one he accused of this, merely because I was the only con in sight. Chico was gone yesterday. He came and conquered in a nanoblink. It was him. Chico is the only person sporting a tattoo across his back reading “Hell Bound.” In his hand he appeared to hold a sword, or at best, an oversized machete. Where he got it, kept it, I didn’t know or care. I dressed and jetted faster than a crackhead morphs into hustler mode. My Kango cap hid my wet hair for the moment. I exited the bathroom calm, but my nerves coursed with concealed fear. I bobbed past the basketball court then backtracked to the weight room. There was no way to predict how much time I had before Tyrone was found by a C.O. No doubt, a fellow inmate would discover Ty any second, but most would follow suit and disappear as soon as they found him. I knew it wouldn’t be long before an inmate screamed and ran to the Man for help. I needed to hide my tracks pronto.
While mostly out of sight, on a floor mat, I shed my clothes to fully dry myself. With my socks, underwear, and gear on, I bounced out to the yard. This took two minutes tops. I left my wet towel draped over a bench and abandoned my soiled underwear and socks in a garbage can by the Muslim handball court. The rest of my shower gear I tossed in a can by the Spanish TV. The only evidence of me taking a shower was some damp hair and the fact that behind my ears were clean. I forced myself to act Fonzi cool. If this were a movie, the Academy Award would already be on my mantelpiece. I moseyed to the far side of the yard and blended in with the spectators watching a chess match. I probably left the shower carnage four minutes ago. I knew they discovered Ty’s body because a swarm of officers exploded from the Main Building. A pack of twelve C.O.’s were running while holding their nightsticks. Some barked number codes into their walkie-talkies: “10-13 Blue Betty!” “86-11 Lonzo!” At least five overweight C.O.’s had stopped and panted the rest of the way to the shower crime scene.
The bitter-sweet scent of Black & Mild cigar smoke wafted into my nasal passages. “What’s up?” came a chorus from the chess crowd. “Probably just a fight and a rookie C.O. pulled the panic pin for the goon squad,” said the guy next to me. “Yeah, prob-ly,” echoed a voice vaguely familiar but hurt my ears. It was Chico! Our eyes met, he surveyed my face searching for a sign if I’d rat him out. I said “Yeah, probably a fight over a basketball game.” I then slunk myself a good fifty yards from Chico’s presence. I didn’t want to be near him when the interrogation crap went down.
That night, we didn’t leave the yard until twelve-thirty a.m. Over five hundred of us were checked for blood, bruises and weapons. Every dude was stripped naked, and as I suspected, the goon squad collared guys with shower gear to interrogate them harder. That was eight months ago, nothing came of it, no new tear for Chico either. We do quickly warn New Jack inmates to stay clear of Chico’s cats, though.
Now Chico’s walking the yard in the opposite direction and I’m starting to smell the aroma that prison yards often get—the stench of death lingering. I developed the Seventh Sense from doing time behind the wall. It’s similar to dogs sensing an earthquake before it happens. Sometimes I could read signs of trouble, because it was eerily quiet. Spooked looks on faces can also reveal to me death drama is about to be set off. This vibe is different. No one knew for sure that trouble would hatch, at least not with beforehand knowledge. Only if you picked up the vibe, if you had the Seventh Sense, could you tell death or mayhem was going to happen. Something bad. Could be anything from a stabbing to a natural heart attack, even an officer going into insulin shock. Only one thing was certain, it would be a bad, if not evil, occurrence. It was as if evil itself was a gargoyle of death perched on the prison wall playing eenie-meenie-mineie-moe, who’ll be the next to go? When this feeling hits me, I respect it and heed its warning. I’ll excuse myself from anyone I may be kicking it with, and I usually go to the middle of the yard to wait for it to happen. Hoping it won’t come after me.
“You feel it, Redd?”
“Feel what?” Redd replied with a quizzical grin.
“The evil vibe floating in the air.”
“What the fuck ya mean?” Redd spit.
“How long did ya say ya been down, Redd?”
“Six years, two months, five days, and seventeen hours, ten minutes and thirty-six, thirty-seven, thirty-eight seconds. Why?” Winked Redd, while peeping his Timex.
“Six years is long enough for ya to develop the Seventh Sense.”
“The Seventh Sense, Redd. Touch, sight, smell, hearing and taste are the five. All that ESP, ‘What card is this?,’ Miss Cleo psychic hotline stuff, is the sixth, and the seventh is the ability to detect death or disaster.” Redd looked me over as if an extra head was growing out of my shoulder.
“That’s bullshit and you’re a bullshitter. There ain’t no Seventh Sense, stop fronting, Rick.”
“Uh-ite Redd, let me ask you two questions. What do you call sumphin’ that happens accidentally, yet seems to have been arranged or planned?”
“Um, sounds like a coincidence to me.”
“Yep, exactly! Question two, and what-a-you call sumphin’ that seems coincidental but happens every time?”
“Shit, I dunno, what?”
“I don’t know either, Redd, but ya can’t call it coincidence anymore. Not when it always happens, so I call it the Seventh Sense.”
“You can call it the seven of spades, you still full of major shit, Rick.”
“Psstt, how ya gonna prove it?”
“Duh, if death or destruction don’t happen, you win.”
“You mean tonight?”
“No, the next millennium, yeah tonight, Einstein.”
“Okay, what you wanna bet?”
“Lemme see . . . two packs of Newports, ten bucks to spend at commissary, one hundred push-ups on demand, and throw in you wash my socks and drawers once like a good bitch would.”
“Ha, beyotch! Now I know you bugging big time. Lemme get this straight. You gonna bet two bricks, ten bucks to spend at commissary, a hundred push-ups, and you’ll wash my socks and underwear if death or destruction don’t happen tonight?”
“You’re kidding me. That’s too easy. You—”
“And I want three-to-one odds, too, Redd.”
“Three-to-one? No way?”
“Redd, you jus’ said it was too easy. What’s the chances of death or destruction happening tonight? Do you want the bet wit’ the three-to-one odds?”
“No dice. Oh, I get it. You tryin to sucka-bet me. You’re gonna say sumphin whacked like, ‘Look, that guy stepped on a flower, it’s destroyed.’ Or, you’ll crush a Styrofoam cup, or swat some fly. Ha, nice try, beyotch!”
“Nope, I wish I was kidding. I’m being straight up, Redd. When I say death, I mean someone’ll die or real destruction.”
“You mean like the prison wall collapsing?”
“Redd, that wall falls down, all bets are off ’cause I’m outta here. But, yeah, destruction like that. Some dude gets his skull busted open with a dumbbell, or that industry fence falls over. Sumphin’ close to that.”
“What about fights?”
“Any regular fights, you win, Redd. Tell ya what, even if some vic gets slashed or stuck, you win, too. They have to die or end up in a coma, some major fucking damage.”
“Hey, how do I know you don’t know someone’s gonna get touched or body-bagged tonight?”
“Shit Redd, don’t ya know me better than that? You implying I already got word some vic’s gonna get killed by a contact, and I’m using that poor sap’s death to swindle some cigs and shit outta my only friend in prison?”
“My bad. Shit, you right. You’re an opportunist, but you’d never pull that foul-a-move. Then why ya betting, Rick?”
“I told ya, I got the death Seventh Sense and I’m gonna teach ya to respect it. Besides, I’m gonna laugh my ass off when ya washin’ my underwear and stinky socks.”
“Yeah, right. Get the Tide ready ’cause you’ll be the one washin’ drawers, Ricky!”
“It’s a bet then?”
“You’re on. Shake this hand and it’s locked.”
“So, what-a-we-do now, Mr. Twilight Zone Spidey man Seventh Sense?” Redd winked.
“You can do whach-ya-want, but I’m stepping to the safest spot I know—to the middle of the yard.”
“The middle, Rick?”
“Yep.” Both men settled in the center yard.
“So this is it. We sit here in the middle of the yard like two hicks, waiting for a U.F.O. to land?”
“Sumphin’ like that, Redd.”
All natural light melted, giving way to a charcoal darkness in the distant part of the prison yard lights.
“This is the easiest bet I ever won. Listen, I prefer my drawers washed in Woollite, sir Risckster. A, ha!”
“Night’s not over, Redd.”
“Face it, Mr. Seventh Sense, we’ve been in the bulls eye of the yard for three hours and go-back is in twenty minutes. You done, son. All I gotta do is put a fork in ya.”
“Maybe. I even hope ya right. I’ve seen a nuff death, Redd. Enough for two Saving Private Ryan movies. I wouldn’t have bet it I didn’t catch the vibe, the Seventh Sense. The sense tingled deep in me and along my spine – it always happens . . . ”
I was beginning to think my spidey sense deceived me and nuttin’ was gonna kick off.
Then I peeped Robo Cop scanning the yard with his Army binoculars, and figured my Seventh Sense was on point as usual.
Robo Cop, he’s the bane of inmates—the ultimate ball breaker, racist, psycho-cop, all in one. He comes complete with the ex-Navy Seal super-grip and a .30-06 automatic rifle. (At a look-out tower near you.) Listen, to be straight-up with you, some inmates hate all cops. It wouldn’t make a difference if Robo Cop was Jesus The Christ, you a cop, you suck, and that’s that. Personally, I don’t vibe like that. A lot of officers do their nine-to-five, go home, and don’t use prison as a stage to act out their racist bully fantasies, fueled by an ego bigger than Hitler’s. But, as we say here in the Beast, straight-up and down, Robo Cop is the prick of all pricks.
Robo is a six-foot-eight-inch, homegrown, backwoods, straight-up, white boy. We never peeped his neck ’cause he always wore his uniform, but no question, it was as red as Rudolph’s nose. You get the idea from lookin’ at ’em, that if he wasn’t a tyrant, redneck correction officer, he’d be on some logging farm cutting down trees with one, tops two, blows of his ax. His mane was the typical marine crew-cut. That Timothy McVeigh good ole boy look. Robo’s face, long and narrow, had eyes out of proportion with the rest of his face. His teeny dot eyes looked weird under his bushy Groucho Marx eyebrows. He has a Mr. Potato Head noggin with G.I. Joe size eyes, a freak-pot if ever I saw one. Robo has an okey-dokey-dufus stride. (Size sixteen EEEE feet will do that to you!) When Robo Cop plodded around the yard he didn’t keep his nightstick in its holster as every normal C.O. did. He’d twirl it as if he were Bruce Lee spinning nunchakas. His nightstick has spilled more blood than Dracula. I personally saw him bust three guys’ skulls last month.
Robo had pulled Law Library duty, and was late in opening the doors. A testy crowd was waiting by the door when he arrived. An old-timer dropped a folder by Robo’s foot. Pop knelt down to pick it up, and Robo Cop bashed him out. Two guys tried to help the old man up, and Robo swatted them as if flies at a picnic. All three went to the hospital, then to the box (Special Housing Unit) S.H.U. with trumped-up charges—pure bullshit. A day before the Chico scene detonated, Robo tried to trap off two young black inmates. Here’s the 411 on that.
“You and you, ID cards. Hands on the wall and don’t take them off until I instruct you to. Direct order, 106.10,” Robo barked and Cee Low and Spades. Cee Low was from the “I-Don’t-Give-A-Fuck” school, and Spades was his twin.
“Wha ge ya say?” Cee Low said, smirking.
Robo drew his Darth Vader saber, shouting: “Put you fucking hands on the wall! That’s a direct order!”
“Ohhh, hands on da wall, uh-ite,” Spades mocked.
Robo Cop licked his chops, because to him, their show of insubordination now justified anything he did to them. That’s how Robo Cop’s delusions worked. He was famous for pat frisking inmates and stopping by their balls for a rub. Only the inmates with the strongest resolve wouldn’t pull off the wall in protest. Cee Low and Spades would come off the wall as sure as Pavlov’s dogs salivated at the sound of their bell. Robo started the frisk at Cee Low’s heels, and began his assent up to his privates. Halfway up, a voice from Heaven saved Spades and Cee Low from an ugly beat down, served up Robo-style.
“Good morning, Officer Minski. What do we have going on here?” It was Lieutenant Stern. She was the fairest Correctional Officer that ever wore the uniform.
“Routine search,” mumbled Robo Cop.
“Routine search, what, Officer Minski?” Mrs. Stern asked.
“Routine search, Lieutenant,” Robo Cop sourly complied.
Normally, Lieutenant Stern wouldn’t mind an officer forgetting proper chain-of-command etiquette, but Mrs. Stern—Mrs. S, as we affectionately call her—knew Robo was a prick, and dangerous, both to inmates and staff. She let him know she was a chief and he was a mere scout.
“Gentlemen, you can remove your hands from the wall. Officer Minski, return their ID’s. Gentlemen, go to your programs, and try to have the best day you can.”
“Yes, Mrs. S,” in unison came the reply.
“I’m not through frisking them . . . Lieutenant,” Robo Cop growled.
“Ohh yes you are. Yesss you are,” Mrs. S cooed, in a tone as if Robo was a baby in a high chair. Cee Low and Spades broke-out down the hall, and Robo Cop wasn’t happy about it.
“Officer Minski, it is 0800 hours, your assigned post is technically vacant now. Rules of order clearly state that unless an immediate cause for a search arises, an officer should be at his specified station. Now, do you want to report to your post, or perhaps receive a reprimand citation?”
“No, lieutenant,” leaked Robo’s words.
“No you don’t want to report to your post, or no, you don’t want to be cited?”
Robo slinked towards his post, Mrs. S snipped at him again, “I thought so.”
Robo Cop’s beady eyes told the whole story. His day was now more miserable than his very existence, and someone, somewhere, would pay—probably an inmate.
In truth, Lieutenant Stern truly was fair. I wasn’t exaggerating. Don’t confuse being fair with being a pushover, because she is anything but one. Even Cee Low and Spades, the type of guys who have little respect for themselves or anyone else, still held sincere respect for Mrs. S. Some officers hated her because she went against the unwritten code of the officers, which read: “Inmates are never right and an officer’s word is always true.” To Mrs. S, what was right was right, what was true was true—period. She simply wouldn’t sacrifice her integrity for anyone. Just as word spreads through the prison population, the word was out, amongst the officers, that Lieutenant Stern wouldn’t tolerate abuse of power. God help an inmate if he assaulted an officer or Corrections staff. Mrs. S was fair on both sides of the fence. If an inmate violated he’d have new charges along with “Go Directly to the Box, Do Not Pass the Commissary and Do Not Collect 200 cigarettes.” That’s why most inmates, and staff, respect her. She doesn’t have to be fair. She could’ve saved a lot of energy by following the norm, the “inmate bad, officer good” program. Mrs. S wasn’t naïve, she knew a lot of inmates were dangerous and polluted with a smorgasbord of anti-social tendencies. But, she also knew we were human, that we weren’t a different species from officers. She simply was a decent, fair person, and every day I thank God for her, and people like her.
Death would make its move soon to checkmate someone’s life. My Seventh Sense began to throb again. My ears received a sound that hurt my ears worse than hearing your child scream in pain. Cries of agony made me wince, sending that scary butterflies feeling to my stomach. The source was a screeching shriek of a cat.
“Meooowww-Huck-Huck!” the wail bellowed, across the yard.
“MEOWWW! MEOWWW!-HISS-O—HISS-OOOHHR!” It didn’t stop.
A cemetery silence settled over the yard from this unfamiliar noise. As statues, we stood listening to the cat’s moaning symphony. People covered their ears because their minds registered the sound as a pain that hurt your soul to hear.
“Shhh, Redd. Shut up and stay on point!”
“It’s just a stupid cat.”
“Listen, Redd, it’s started. Whatever’s going down is happening now. Look at the hairs on my arm. They’re standing straight as if permed. Redd, my Seventh Sense is kicking hard.”
“Oh, get real. Now I know you done bugged big time! Rick, they got medication for dudes like you.”
Sweat flooded my back. My stomach got that fast elevator tickle in it, and my death sense was off the charts. It was déjà vous all over again from when Tyrone was butchered in the shower. I’m no punk, but the truth is, I was scared. I felt I was one of those gazelles you see on the nature channel. The one that senses the lion posse is lurking in the brush, but can’t locate them. Can’t see or smell them, but only knows they’re stalking near by. Turns out one of Chico’s cats, Peanut, had a leg crushed under the compactor lid. Chico stood at the gate pleading in Spanish for the cat to save itself.
“Mani, Mani, ven donde Papa, ven donde Papa!” Peanut, Peanut, come to Papa, come to Papa!
Chico stood helpless, as a father who couldn’t swim, while he watched his son drowning. Banging and kicking the fence didn’t help, Peanut only cried more. By now the pain consumed Peanut, he moaned in a worse guttural cry, an oh-my-God sort of yelp. That sound, worse than his screeching, made you realize Peanut would gladly exchange his foot for freedom from the pain. Chico couldn’t stand the pain anymore and Peanut. He began climbing the fence. Guard tower spotlights shined on him, reminding me of a scene from Hogan’s Heroes. Unfazed, Chico climbed—Peanut’s dreadful moan hypnotized him. A bullhorn echoed out orders, “Get off the fence now!”
“Meowww!” Peanut yelped as cats pranced about him, agitated by his cries.
“Meowww!” Peanut yelped to Chico the Great Tuna God.
Two officers arrived, yelling at Chico to get down. He didn’t. “This is a direct order now—”
“Bang! Bang!” Two warning shots echoed over the yard, followed by every inmate hitting the ground in unison, as if it was one big dance recital at Carnegie Hall. Chico climbed higher, set on saving Peanut.
“Bang!” A bullet splattered Chico’s head as he was getting over the top. He fell limp, his leg and neck caught in razor ribbon resembling a huge fly caught in a spider’s web. As if bungee jumping he seemed stuck in mid air. Ironically, Chico’s head was peeled back similar to the tuna can lids he used to feed his cats. Blood gushed out of his head, illuminated by the yards’ search lights. A slug from a .30-06 will do that to a head.
“Bang!” Another bullet tore through Chico’s chest, exiting his back, giving new Webster’s meaning to the term overkill. Not a cat was in sight except for Peanut, still stuck in torment, but strangely not whimpering. I guess the Great Tuna God’s death put him into coma-shock. Sixteen officers circled Chico’s body, only one tried to get him down. Chico hung, resembling a pig on a hook being bled in a slaughterhouse. The one C.O. tried using his nightstick to jar Chico’s body loose, but stopped when blood spilled onto his boot. Redd and I were twenty-five to thirty yards from the slaughter. With four searchlights on Chico’s body dangling as human mistletoe, we could see a tattoo on his side that read “DEATH.” His other side read “LIFE.”
The shots were fired from the north tower, Robo Cop’s tower. At a hundred yards, I swear a silly smirk was on his deranged face. He cradled his rifle as a mother holds her newborn. I’d bet parole he had a hard-on from killing Chico. Five minutes later, Robo joined the C.O. crowd around Chico’s body. It was as if Chico was an eight point trophy buck, and Robo was the hunter inspecting his kill. The prick was even puffing on a cigar, blowing indifferent smoke rings at Chico’s leaking body.
Soon, top correctional brass arrived. Lieutenant Stern was one of the brass. She seemed to be the only officer to be bothered by the whole situation.
“What the hell happened here?! Who shot the inmate?! Why is he still up there?”
Heads turned to Robo Cop, but he was already swaggering towards Mrs. S. Robo had two chips on his shoulder and one grin above his chin.
“I fired upon the inmate after two warning shots were fired. The inmate ignored them and continued the escape. Rules of order #406 clearly states, ‘Any inmate who ignores a warning shot while attempting to escape, can be shot.’ Robo may just as well stuck his tongue out at Mrs. S and said, “Na-na-na-na-na-na!”
“Escape?! Are you nuts! Where was he going to escape? The messhall? The freaking industry building?”
“The inmate was violating containment security and an breach of . . . ”
“Violating?! You piece of rat-shit! What was he going to do, scale this ten-foot fence, then magically sprout wings and fly over that one hundred foot razor-wired wall?!”
“Whatever, Lieutenant Stern.”
It was Robo’s smirk that pushed Mrs. S over her control edge.
“CRACK!” Mrs. S delivered a Mike Tyson right cross to Robo’s nose. In a move straight out of The Matrix, she pulled out Robo’s nightstick, held it above her head Bruce Lee style, and dared Robo to come at her.
“You broke my nose! Ya broke my nose!” Robo yelled like the punk-bitch he was.
“I’ll break your jaw, your legs and neck if you don’t get out of here in ten seconds, you filthy bastard!”
“I don’t have to go anywhere, I . . . ”
“Five!” Robo melted into the surrounding C.O. crew. “Someone help me get this inmate down,” ordered Mrs. S.
Not an officer flinched. “What’s wrong with you people? Get this person off the fence!”
A lone officer sheepishly spoke, “Uh, Lieutenant, we can’t. We have to wait for the HMU crew.”
“The Hazardous Materials Unit. The blood could be infected with HIV or HEP C. There’s a possibility the inmate had AIDS. He’s clearly dead. If we get infected, our union insurance won’t cover us. You understand, right Lieutenant Stern?”
“No officer, I don’t. I understand that what’s left of a person is now a human piñata dangling in razor wire. And you all are staring at him like he’s the Rockefeller Christmas tree.”
Mrs. S took a nearby garbage can, flipped it and used it as a stepping stool. Chico bled in random drops now, most of his blood pooled under him on the concrete. Ironically, some of Robo’s busted nose blood was mixing around with Chico’s in the blood puddle. Mrs. S, standing on the can, tugged on his belt, trying to free him. Only Chico’s arm came loose, falling bloodied across her virgin white shirt. Still no one else budged to help her. Mrs. S was crying, not as a sniffling baby, but as a person who hurt deep inside the place that makes us human . . . her soul.
Heavy tears streamed off her cheeks while struggling with Chico’s corpse. Still holding Robo’s nightstick, she poked at his leg and finally the octopus razor-ribbon released his flesh. Mrs. S put Chico in the fireman’s carry and placed him on the grass a few feet from where Peanut was still caught in the trash compactor lid.
“Meeooooow!” Peanut droned, subdued from the pain. Mrs. S then simply lifted the lid, releasing Peanut and his mangled leg.
“GET ON THE GROUND NOW! THIS IS A DIRECT ORDER!” boomed a bullhorn. A searchlight beamed on a lone inmate standing ten feet from the fence where Mrs. S took Chico down. Ignoring the order, the defiant inmate started clapping. “Clap-Clap.”
“GET ON THE GROUND NOW!” the bullhorn echoed.
What happened next, I’ll never forget. Another inmate stood and matched the cadence of the other’s clapping. Then five more stood, followed by twenty, then fifty, until over five hundred inmates were standing, clapping in unison, including me and Redd.
The ovation was our way of thanking Lieutenant Stern for doing the decent thing by getting Chico down from the razor ribbon.
Bang! Bang! Two shots fired was all it took, and we played dead again for The Man.
“Yo, ya believe my Seventh Sense now, Redd?” I whispered from my belly.
“No doubt, Rick. Good thing for you I didn’t win the bet ’cause I think I shit my pants from this drama.”
Well bad news for you ’cause I did piss mine. So, get the Woollite ready for my drawers. And I should make you do those push-ups now. Remember, they’re on demand!”
“Shit, Rick. Chico was assassinated for trying to rescue a stinkin’ cat.”
“Yeah, welcome to prison . . . to a slice of hell on earth.”